Rape is not a matter of religion

A street preacher’s remarks about the way Canadian women dress fuels a tired debate

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In Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square, street corners are crowded with religious buskers, preachers, end-of-lifers. They’re often ignored until they make statements so foolish that you have to stop and stare.

A Muslim street-preacher in Toronto recently stated in a letter to the Toronto Sun following a string of sexual assaults that he believes women should be forced to cover up in Canada if they don’t want to get raped. Al-Haashim Kamena Atangana believes that Canadian laws “give too much freedom to women” and that Canadian women should adhere to a dress code to avoid being raped.

It’s an old narrative that suggests women who dress provocatively are going to be treated accordingly. It’s a warped argument to make; victim-blaming at its worst. “She was asking for it,” is perhaps the laziest rape apology out there.

Such beliefs, which inspired the city’s SlutWalk movement, matter. Atangana may be a no-name street-preacher in downtown Toronto, but he represents the views held by some men—not all, but enough that it matters—that women deserve what they get. Which is nonsense. What we need is not more blame for girls and women who are victims, but more education and accountability for boys and men to prevent them from becoming perpetrators.

It was heartening, at least, to see that responses to Atangana’s words were exactly what they should be: bewilderment and the refusal to accept that as a reasonable solution to sexual assault. It was irresponsible from the get-go for the Sun to publish the comments of a radical who sent them an email. Once those statements are publicized, however, it’s important to counter them.

After the Sun published Atangana’s comments, former president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, Dr. Farzana Hassan wrote a reply. She argued that the blame for rape should be placed on the perpetrator, and not on the victim. But she also noted, “While rape is more often reported here, it occurs with equal if not greater frequency and ferocity in the Middle East and South Asia.”

In other words, dressing conservatively is unlikely to dissuade sexual assaults—in Middle Eastern countries where women dress more modestly, there are still rapes with little consequence for the perpetrator. The rules of rape are different there, but it’s clear that a rape is a rape, regardless of a woman’s dress.

The trouble with Dr. Hassan’s argument is when she claims that Atangana’s point of view is more widespread in Islamist communities.

“Many Islamist men do not understand the imperative of consent in a sexual relationship,” she writes. “They believe rape is a normal rather than a criminal reaction to female physiology, and assume that this would be every man’s response to a glimpse of skin.”

True enough, Islamists are fundamentalist and extreme conservatives, and their views aren’t the norm throughout Muslim culture. But this argument does nothing for the conversation we’re having about a woman’s ability to feel comfortable in any neighbourhood, regardless of what she wears.

Instead of examining why finding men with victim-blaming beliefs in any community is easy, we can instead blame the Qu’ran. What an easy out.

Atangana’s statements reveal the extremities of Islam, not the moderate middle. In matters of religion, it’s always the smallest minority that screams the loudest. The wide majority of people—of Muslim men and women—are too busy living their lives to be fundamentalists. That’s where the majority lives, but they’re not as sexy a headline as “crazy Muslim guy is crazy.”

“This mythology that there are some religions that are religions of the sword and that some are not is, I’m sorry to say this, but it’s bullshit,” said religious scholar, Dr. Reza Aslan, who is an actual scholar and not a street-preacher who was inexplicably elevated to cleric. “It’s not religion that’s violent or peaceful, it’s people who are violent or peaceful.”

Indeed, it’s absurd to suggest that one, or three, or even 20 men speak for the majority of men in their community. We can’t let the fringe control the message.

Sexism and abuse against women happens in every corner of the world. It happens when a Sault Ste. Marie man takes a Kickstarter campaign too seriously and goes for blood. It happens in Topeka, Kansas, where a domestic violence law was repealed because of budget cuts. It isn’t isolated to traditionally Muslim countries—women are devalued across the globe, regardless of culture or religion.

But Dr. Hassan’s suggestion that all Islamist men are the same in their views on women does nothing to fix, or even address the problem. Rape isn’t religious; all that assumption does is make it seem like an isolated problem.

And that, as Dr. Aslan would say, is just bullshit.




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Rape is not a matter of religion

  1. It is interesting that Dr. Hassan’s “Many Islamist men” becomes “all Islamist men” in your penultimate paragraph.

  2. As a woman, I believe that there are many cultural groups who need to look at why many of their men hate women. Rape is not just a sexual act; it is an act of hatred and aggression towards females. It is committed against children and the elderly, as well as against women. There is obviously something that is wrong with their minds, and may well have its roots in childhood. I have certainly seen contempt for women demonstrated by ALL ethnic groups; likewise with respect for women.

  3. Koul, you went from talking about Islamist men thinking abuse against women is okay to saying “Instead of examining why finding men with victim-blaming beliefs in any community is easy, we can instead blame the Qu’ran. What an easy out.”
    I don’t think there is necessarily a link with the Qu’ran in these abuses. I’m not Muslim, or even that religious, but I found while reading this article, the mention of their bible as odd. It’s like attributing child sexual abuse by priests or other Christians to the bible.

    • The author, I believe, said the exact same thing you are now scrutinizing. Koul was saying that we can try to blame the Qur’an but that it’s just an easy way out that doesn’t actually solve anything.

  4. Rape is a criminal act of violence and control perpetrated by men bent on asserting their control over women.

    The act is criminal and reprehensible, but look at the facts of other crimes perpetrated by the criminal element, a car owner runs into the store leaving the car running or a house owner in TO leaves the house without locking the door, or a person goes to the bank and takes out 10,000$ and then starts to flash it around in the run down area of TO. When an act of criminality occurs with the car being stolen, the house being broken into, or the guy being robbed of his cash we deplore the criminal act but also the stupidity of those that had the crime perpetuated against them by making it easier to be victimized.

    Being responsible for yourself, meaning reducing your ease of victimization, in this day and age does not mean dressing in traditional muslim clothing in this country, however if you are parading around like Paris Hilton with your beaver showing when you sit down or out in a top that has your chest showing everything as if you where in a pride parade you may be drawing unwanted attention to yourself from people that you do not want to, much like a parked car with the keys in the ignition.

    Rape is a criminal act perpetrated by a lowlife criminal on the easiest target in sight, don’t be that target by drawing unwanted attention to yourself.

    • Oh do stop being silly. Babies are raped. 90 year old women are raped. Victorian women in head-to-toe clothes were raped. So are Muslim women in burkkas.

      Rape isn’t about sex, you can get sex on any street corner….it’s about control…and power…..and clothing has nothing to do with it.

      Men need to grow up.

      • Emily my point is that rape is about control and power can’t you read??

        My point is also that women can make themselves less of a next target by being clad appropriately for their surroundings.

        This is no different than anyone else that is a victim of any other crime that is perpetrated on someone that is in a setting and is not taking into consideration their surroundings.

        Men need to grow up and women need to grow a brain.

        Back in the Victorian times those dresses where considered sexy!!!!

        • Clothes have nothing to do with it…..and no, those dresses weren’t considered sexy. They served the same purpose as burkkas do today.

          Didn’t work back then, either.

  5. Scaachi Koul needs to do some more reading. Check the stats on women raped in Norway and Sweden. Read “Nine Parts of Desire”. Stop bringing in imams from Saudi and Egypt where the Islamists are fundamentalist and extreme conservatives.

    “As in many religions or ideologies that stray from their founders’ intent, Islam’s establishment has had a lot to do with perpetuating repressive and barbaric practices that have nothing to do with Koranic teachings. “Islam did not have to mean oppression of women. So why were so many women oppressed?”

    There is no room for currently-fashionable relativism. “At some point, every religion, especially one that purports to encompass a complete way of life and system of government, has to be called to account for the kind of life it offers the people in the lands where it predominates,” Brooks writes, with 240 persuasive pages behind her. The arguments of cultural relativists, she says, boil down “to this ghastly and untenable position: a human right is what the local despot says it is.”

    http://middleeast.about.com/od/books/fr/me071024a.htm

  6. Your garden variety left-wing progressive actually has no trouble condemning Judeo-Christianity for its misogyny, but when it comes to Islam, there’s a lot of hemming and hawing about how it’s wrong to generalize about an entire religion. It’s a good example of how political correctness makes it impossible to be morally or logically consistent.

    • Yeah, I’m not convinced either. The story was about a Muslim street preacher prescribing an Islamic dress code as the cure-all for sexual assault (no doubt backed by his extensive research into sexual assault in Islamic countries –hey if we don’t let people report it, it mustn’t exist-right?). The response from the council addressed the basic premise of the argument. The council didn’t drag Islam into the matter, it WAS the matter being considered. That doesn’t mean that sexual assault doesn’t exist in other cultures or religions. However, it also doesn’t mean that, when addressing the issue, you get to bring in all kinds of irrelevant information. Had the Council stated/suggested that Islam was the only culture, religion or philosophy in which sexism, sexual assault, misogyny were ingrained, I could see the reason for the issue. Otherwise, it’s actually OK to call out a particular issue without having to address all other collaterally related issues.
      If I’m wrong, then I expect Ms. Koul’s to edit her article on the cocaine trade in Brazil. After all, drug-trafficking occurs all over the world, so it’s not right to just focus on Brazil.

  7. OMG typical Muslims that would believe this. Men I believe in those countries look at women as human Trash and are raised to believe that the MALE is the dominant species. Until you change that way of thinking I believe that we will continue to see never ending violence with these people. i don’t believe that they belong in Canada.

  8. Dressing down might lower the chances that an individual will be raped but it does nothing to solve the problem for society.

    • No it doesn’t

  9. Perhaps we could put this dimbulb into a prision with a “modest” burka and see how his theory holds up.

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